Relevancy of Robotics in sTEm Education

Everyone loves to see robots in action, but how are they relevant, perhaps even critical to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education? Programs such as FIRST® Robotics are growing by leaps and bounds in schools nationwide, and “robotics” is a popular summer camp offering. Why? Kids love robots! And when students ask to be part of an activity that teaches not only STEM curriculum, but learning and teamwork, parents love them too. FLATE’s Robotics camps have been an important part of FLATE outreach to middle and high school students since 2005 and have served 587 campers to date.

Part of FLATE’s National Science Foundation mission is to provide education and experiences promoting
Florida advanced manufacturing college and career pathways, and for many students, the educational punch packed by robotics camp is an ideal way to jumpstart the process toward interest in adding more STEM subjects in school. As well, while math and science subjects abound, technology and engineering subjects, especially in middle school, may be harder to find. Robotics camps and programs are stepping up to fill the void in technical and engineering education (the T & E side of sTEm), for the average middle school student. Parents of summer campers have let FLATE know, through surveys, that schools are not offering enough technology, engineering, and robotics curriculum and coursework, and parents wish this would change. In response to this articulated need, FLATE has developed curriculum focused on industry connected high tech manufacturing scenarios (based on real Florida companies) and also uses summer robotics camps and open house events in HCC’s high tech engineering technology lab to raise awareness about technology and engineering college and careers using robots as one hook to engage and interest students.

Early exposure to robotics through camps, competitions, and sTEm programs, especially if not offered as part of traditional school curriculum, introduces students to the world of automation and provides the opportunity to explore high tech industrial careers and inventive concepts and applications. In speaking about robotics camps, Dr. Row Rogacki, Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, believes camps “meet a real need for local students interested in technology.” Indeed, school budgets may present an obstacle for providing state-of-the art “hands on experiences” using equipment in the classroom, and this has contributed to the technology and engineering gap in secondary technology education. New models have high schools working with colleges for laboratory resource sharing, dual enrollment, and partnerships with vendors.

Another important consideration for promoting technology relevant robotics curriculum in schools is
introducing middle and high school teachers to advanced technology curriculum, such as 3-D modeling, and providing teachers with the background, learning resources, and partnerships they need to provide relevant sTEm curriculum using robotics and automated processes. To this end, FLATE hosts engineering technology summer institutes, summer camps for teachers, and sTEm workshops for teachers. Teacher workshops in recruitment strategies for girls to STEM curriculum and “Green” technologies are popular with advisors as well as teachers. As a parent recently shared, “[robotics] is a program that should and could be incorporated in the school systems – it is learning, fun, and hands on which is needed in our students education.” Involving all levels of education providers, as well as parents in awareness of the relevance of technology, engineering, and robotics is critical to supplying tomorrow’s high tech workforce.

To register for FLATE’s 2013 Summer Institute, contact Dr. Marilyn Barger at barger@fl-ate.org,. For more information about FLATE’s 2013 Summer Camp for Teachers, GreenTech, contact Dr. Marie Boyette at mboyette3@hccfl.edu. To register for the 2013 “All Girls” and other robotic camps, visit our website at http://www.fl-ate.org/projects/camps.html, or contact Desh Bagley, outreach manager at bagley@fl-ate.org.